Lonely Planet Writer

Why sharks need us to snap rather than scream when we see them

Ever since the movie Jaws hit the big screens, sharks have been seen as the deadly enemy of humans in the water.

A quarter of sharks are threatened with extinction because we don't know enough about their habits
A quarter of sharks are threatened with extinction because we don’t know enough about their biology or migration patterns  Image by jc.winkler / CC BY 2.0

Now though Australian scientists are asking people to snap rather than scream the next time they come across a shark.

Researchers at the University of Western Australia have put the message out to surfers, divers, marine societies, and of course swimmers to make their contribution to a new citizen science database on the cartilaginous fish, Sharkbase.

Dr Ryan Kempster, of the educational institution’s Neuroecology Group, said such additional information would help the world’s understanding of sharks while also helping to protect the species which could be facing extinction.

According to the Melbourne Sun Herald, Dr Kempster said that advances in modern technology give virtually everyone access to a camera phone that could be used to record rare wildlife encounters.

He said that “citizen science” could in future become a very important method of improving the overall understanding of sharks as well as management of their numbers. He stressed, however, that this should only be done without people ever putting themselves at risk.

The researcher said that if a shark was spotted while people were undertaking their fishing or surfing, diving or swimming, they should record it with Sharkbase. He emphasised that the vast majority of sharks are totally harmless to humans and pointed out that only a small number, including the white, tiger or bull shark, are involved in attacks on humans.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature says that a quarter of all shark species are currently threatened with extinction.

Experts say there is a need to learn much more about the species’ biology and migration patterns in order to lower the risk of facing shark attacks.